Sunday, July 19, 2009


Nowadays we have become accustomed to the fabrics from which we fashion our garments being either knitted or woven. The types of fibres we use have certainly expanded since my childhood, when, in sewing classes, we learned that the main fibre groups were cotton, wool, silk, linen and rayon. Soon after that, a whole range of nylons and polys exploded onto the market, but the methods of transforming them into fabric remained much the same.

Our ancestors, of course, made good use of skins and furs, before they learned to spin and weave, but how did the people of the Pacific Islands manage, when these materials were not available to them? We know they made use of feathers and foliage, particularly for ceremonial dress.

The art of weaving was well known to the Polynesians, but was used more for such things as baskets and even shelters. They lacked suitable fibres for spinning and weaving cloth.

A widely used cloth for bedding and clothing throughout Polynesia and the Pacific, and even areas of Asia, was the tapa cloth. The production of tapa cloth was more akin to the process of paper making.

The inner bark of various trees is stripped and beaten into a "fusion." In many Pacific island, the resulting cloth would then be further embellished by dyeing, printing or stamping, often using symbols belonging to the wearer or his/her tribe or family.

My friend Annette, who has spent time on Pitcairn, says the freshly-made tapa cloth is a little stiff for clothing, and was often used for bedding until it had become softer.

My task for last month's "Stitching Together" Round Robin was to interpret the word "Ethnic." I chose to interpret the ethnicity of my DH Bernie and my children, which is best descibed as "Bounty Tahitian."

Because we are a needlework group, and as such fascinated by anything textile, I thought I would feature the making of Tapa cloth.

Pauline is a Norfolk Islander of Bounty descent. She is married to George, who is a Tahitian Tattoo artist. They have been living in Tahiti for some years, but have now relocated, with their two children, to Norfolk Island.

Bernie (right) with George Barff, Pauline and young Mauatua

Pauline is one of those wonderful people who has committed herself to being a type of custodian of those values and skills of her Polynesian cultural roots. She was happy to help me out with my page.

This picture was taken in Tahiti.
It shows Meralda, who is a Pitcairn Islander of Bounty descent, and, like Pauline, very proud of her roots. The little girl is Pauline's daughter Mauatua, who is named after Fletcher Christian's Tahitian wife. Together, Meralda and Mauatua are beating some bark with a wooden mallet to produce a piece of Tapa.

This is a piece of tapa made by Pauline from the bark of the Pacific Banyan, and displayed at our Community Arts Exhibition this year.

Pauline very kindly produced a small piece of tapa cloth for me, and I attached it to my page using a strip of cloth produced by Sue, another Norfolk Artist of Bounty descent. Sue produces wonderful lengths of printed cloth, using Polynesian style designs.

The background of my page is a piece of marbled fabric that I made a while back.

I added some shells and black pearls (faux, unfortunately) to add to the symbolism of the page.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Marvellous Mary, thanks for sharing.

Kudos to those people who have a real sense of pride in their heritage and carry on the traditions and skills to keep them alive for future generations.

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